Much Ado About Logo

Yesterday, my employer, Western Washington University, unveiled a new logo, the product of many, many hours of research, deliberation, design, redesign, and student feedback, and from the reaction you’d think that the logo was an unmitigated disaster.

Judge for yourself:

Pretty nice, huh? I particularly like the abstract swoopy-line representation of Mt. Baker and the swoopy water elements, how they capture the sense of place, a campus nestled, as it is, between the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound, important when you consider that for years surveys have clearly indicated that the main reason students choose to come to Western is: location, location, location.

For contrast, the old logo:



Here, the “location” consists of the front doors of the main administrative building on campus, Old Main, a place students go to when they have to pay tuition, check on their financial aid, complain about not being able to get into the classes they need, go for help at the Tutorial Center when they are struggling academically, or go for help at the Counseling Center when they are struggling emotionally.

Personally, I like the more positive associations of the new logo, and yet, posts on WWU’s online discussion forum, Viking Village, are full of the kind of vitriol usually reserved for tuition increases, the cost of textbooks, or dining hall food.

I’ve had some personal experience in logo design, not as the designer, but as a member of the design review and approval committee, and I can say unequivocally that it is an exhausting, brutal process. Subjectivity is a very powerful fact of life, and graphic designers are usually sensitive, creative people who have to have the patience of Job, making dozens and dozens of revisions, great and small, under a delusion that it’s actually possible to please everyone on the committee.

In an act that was nothing short of heroic, the student designer who worked on the Western logo, noticing how strong the reaction was, posted a new thread on the forum, identifying himself as the designer, and offering to answer any questions his fellow students might have.

Sadly, he’s been spared no mercy.

It would be funny if it weren’t so disturbing, that people could get so angry about something so insignificant.

4 thoughts on “Much Ado About Logo

    1. The only gripe that I can sympathize with is how poorly they’ve implemented the new logo on WWU’s home page.

      In the statements released by the administration, they’ve made it clear that it would have been too costly and time-consuming to try and redo all print and web publications all at once and roll them out in a completed form. And, I can understand that.

      However, it’s beyond me why they haven’t resized the search bar in the header, which grew to scary, unnatural proportions when they dropped in the new logo, which is taller than the old log, and the new tagline, “Active Minds – Changing Lives.”

  1. Great post! Just wanted to share a few thoughts.

    I think the new logo is pretty, and I agree with you that communicates something about the school better than the old logo did. Western is not a college that’s about tall, glorious buildings. I think having a building in the logo evokes feelings of ivy league schools and high-fallutin’ academia.

    (Although, to the best of my knowledge, no ivy league school actually uses a building in their logo. They all like to use their official seals or their mottos or just a nice serif typographical thing. UNC depicts the campus Old Well in their logo, though.)

    I suspect the most vocal students are upset because they feel like the elimination of the building in the logo is a hit to their image of prestige. But the architecture is not a hallmark of WWU in the same way it is at more traditional east-coast schools. I think that it makes sense to take that into account when rebranding the university, and to move in a direction that more closely matches what people actually like about Western (like mountains and water.)

    All that being said, I did prefer the old color scheme to the new one. I probably will not get all INTERNET CAPS LOCK ANGRY about it, but I think the blue/gold looks nicer than the blue/other blue. And I do hope they redo the website at some point to conform to the new feel of the new logo.

    I also think that within a month, the nerdrage over the logo will pass. Everyone thinks they’re a graphic designer, and everyone likes getting uppity over design changes. But just like when Facebook changes their layout twice a month, everyone forgets about it pretty soon and life goes on.

    1. LOL! Did you recognize my subtle reference to you, Rochelle?

      I still have the four preliminary logo designs that you mocked up – the salmon, the orca, the bike, and the tiny branches – hanging up in my office and have looked at them a lot as I’ve been thinking about WWU’s new logo.

      You did such great work and kept your cool incredibly well!

      Oh, and I agree with you that the rage will subside.

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